Contending with Our Inner Critic

I started my day, my week, in defeat. It’s a rainy Monday, and I’m tired from an active weekend. I was hoping that the yoga workout I did this morning would help me feel stretched out, energized, and renewed – but it was too advanced for me (Sorry, but four crows?! And a side plank where you hold the big toe of your top leg and extend your top leg straight?!) and left me feeling like a failed yogi. I got stuck at the car dealer getting an oil change that took two and a half hours, and left my snack in the car. The hanger was real, y’all. Not to mention I am on day two of my cycle so all I really want to do is ignore everyone and read books and nap all day. But I CAN’T. BOO.

Cue my inner critic. It was truly a perfect storm for her: I’m on my period, had a crappy workout, the weather sucks, and I got stuck at the car repair shop. Without snacks!

There are different ways to deal with negative self-talk, or your inner critic. You can invite her along for the ride, but make her sit in the backseat (a la Elizabeth Gilbert). Maisie Hill, in her book Period Power, has several recommended strategies including standing up to her, challenging her, and killing her with kindness. You don’t have to use the same approach every time. Today, because I was stuck at the car dealership, I couldn’t say “F off” and go hop on my Peloton bike or meditate or snuggle my dogs. I couldn’t even reach for a snack to quell my ever-increasing hanger. So, because I wasn’t poised to fight and I couldn’t kill her with the kindness of self-care, and perhaps because I was at the car dealer so the metaphor fit best anyway, I let her sit in the backseat.

Oh hi inner critic. Here you are again, rearing up when you know I’m stuck somewhere I don’t want to be on a rainy day, having just gotten my period, feeling tired from the weekend and acutely hungry and thirsty because I’ve been sitting here with no access to food and just my one water bottle for two hours. It’s Monday, there are two weeks of school left, I’m feeling tired from the weekend and overwhelmed by everything I have to do. So guess what: I’m not surprised that you decided to pop into my brain today. This is no sneak attack. You’re not that good.

Because I don’t have the ability to expel you from my brain, or meditate, stretch, snuggle, or snack you back into submission, please just have a seat – in the back, no shotgun for you. You can buckle yourself in.

Now, I am going to continue to go about my day. My car will be done at some point, and after that I am going to eat a snack and start ticking off the annoying errands and other to do’s that have to get done today so that I can clear my conscience and focus on the good stuff for the rest of the week.

And that’s what I did. And by the way, I had this conversation by typing out my words to her. But you can also speak to yourself, silently or out loud; dictate or type into your notes app; or write in a journal or even just on scrap paper. Just put the words out there somehow.

With my inner critic in the metaphorical backseat, once I got back behind the literal wheel, I was able to start all my irritating errands. And once I started, it became like a game. How many annoying errands can I do before I need to be home to let the dogs out? My gas tank is about 2/3 empty. I’ll fill it so I won’t have to think about gas the rest of the week! There’s a non-urgent prescription that is ready at the drug store. I’ll get it now! I also had to mail a letter at the post office (gas station, drug store, post office – I meant it when I said I was stacking irritating errands!). With each task I accomplished, I felt my mood lighten. Cheer started to replace the gloom that had dominated my morning. And while these errands plus the world’s longest oil change ate up most of my day, getting them done also relieved some pressure from my week’s packed calendar.

By the time I got home, I felt almost triumphant. What I realized is that my inner critic thrives when I feel stifled. But guess what: vice versa! As soon as I started to exude more gratitude and good cheer than doom and gloom, the air in our metaphorical car became too stifling for her. And that is a win I’ll carry with me into the rest of this crazy week.

When I was drinking, I would let days like today completely defeat me. Instead of sitting with the discomfort and directly addressing my inner critic, thoughts of my first glass of wine would eclipse anything else. Wine was my coping mechanism, my escape. Once I became a non-drinker, wine was no longer an option so I turned to food or social media scrolling instead. Now I am in the process of becoming an intuitive eater, and I am taking my power back from food in a way that is similar to what I did with wine. I also set time limits for Instagram and my News apps, to curtail my scrolling – and because I’m a rule follower, it’s working!

This is all to say that I am starting to be able to sit with the discomfort. To have my inner critic in the backseat without driving off the road. It’s hard. It’s not fun. It’s work. Icky work, not welcome work. But it’s WORKING. And that feels pretty great.

How do you face your inner critic? Do you struggle with staying present in discomfort? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Take the Compliment and Run

I made this post a podcast! Woohoo!

May 2021. A quick update:

1,034 days alcohol-free. 14 months into the pandemic. 7 days since my second vaccine (and still feeling fatigued, but grateful! Yay science!). 8 weeks to go in my kids’ school year. 2 giant jars of Nutella sitting in my pantry. 1 new office space in a niche off my bedroom that has me feeling super inspired and recommitted to this blog, to writing with a lower case “w” (#recoveringperfectionist), to putting myself out there more often in the hope that someone finds solace in my vulnerability and feels a little more inspired to just keep going.

Just keep going. Just do the next thing. That is enough.

Sometimes the next thing is a small task: brushing your teeth, packing a school lunch, walking the dog. And sometimes the next thing is a big ol’ leap. I did one of these big next things a few weeks ago when I finally decided to enroll in a program I’ve been pondering for the last couple of years, the IAPRC Certified Professional Recovery Coach dual certification program. By November(ish), I will be a Certified Professional Coach and a Certified Professional Recovery Coach. And I swear I didn’t just do it so I can add a lot of acronyms after my name:

Jennifer B. Butler, AB, MBA, CPC, CPRC

Although that looks pretty awesome.

My gut made me do it. This pesky gut of mine keeps clinging to wanting to write a book (yes, that is still on my bucket list and yes, it still terrifies and intimidates me on a daily basis); and, since becoming alcohol-free myself, wanting to help others ditch booze in a professional, entrepreneurial, mom boss kind of way.

I am absolutely loving the program so far. It has been like yoga for my brain. I feel more limber and stronger for having applied myself to the modules, worksheets, and practice exercises. I feel the invigoration of a long-overdue, much-needed mental stretch. My inner critic is having a field day trying to come up with ways to sabotage me (most involve scrolling Instagram – so unoriginal) but I have kept her at bay so far.

Just do the next thing.

When I was a wine mom, my inner critic was living large, spitting a constant barrage of abuse that sent me to my wine fridge on a daily basis. Wine crippled my ability to stand up for myself. Wine made me feel incapable of weathering discomfort. Again and again, I chose to numb. I didn’t believe I was strong enough to stand up against that voice that told me I wasn’t good enough, thin enough, smart enough.

Yesterday, in the midst of lingering fatigue from receiving my second Covid vaccine, my inner critic once again tried to get the best of me. “You will never be able to start your own coaching business. So many smart, pretty, successful women are already doing it. You’ll never actually be able to find any clients. You’ll wimp out on this, just like you’re doing with your book.” (That last one is a particularly low blow.)

I heard her. I felt hurt by her. But I did not open a bottle of wine. I did not even open one of the giant jars of Nutella. Instead of slinking away and numbing myself to those words that slashed me from within, I talked back. “Oh hi, inner critic. My, how vocal you are today! You make me feel pretty awful. But you are just a voice. You have no power. And using alcohol or sugar will only give you the power you crave. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to acknowledge that you’re there and try my best to do nice things for myself until you fade into the background where you belong.”

I took a nap. I took a shower. I walked my dog. I read a magazine. I meditated. I jotted in my gratitude journal.

I took my power back.

And today, I took more of my power back my taking some compliments.

I have an email account tied to this blog, but I rarely check it. Over the last few years I have received some really wonderful, heartfelt notes from people who have read this blog, or found me on Connect or Instagram, or read my posts on Motherly or This Naked Mind.

I never wrote anybody back.

This is VERY unlike me. I am a good correspondent. I keep in touch with people. I like writing emails. But for some reason, I just could not bring myself to respond to these very kind emails – some of which have been sitting in my inbox since 2018.

This morning, I sat at my new desk in my new office space – a bright, happy, vibrant office space fit for a life coach – took a deep breath, inhaling who I want to be and exhaling my inner critic’s b.s., and I wrote everybody back.

In her book Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes has a brilliant and hilarious chapter on taking compliments (and how many women suck at it). She reminds us:

“No one is obligated to compliment you.

“They do it out of kindness.

“They do it because they want to.

“They do it because they believe the compliment they are offering.”

Today, finally, I chose to receive these compliments. And I wrote everybody back to acknowledge them (well, and to grovel a bit for my tardy replies). I created a folder in my email called “Gold Star File” and I moved all of the wonderful emails there. Then I printed some of them out, to keep these compliments at hand for the next time my inner critic dares to pipe up.

But I think, if I keep on this path of believing in myself and my ability to be a great coach and a great writer, my inner critic’s pipes will fade to peeps. And I’ll be able to focus on my life’s work instead of drowning in self-doubt.